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On most days, visitors to the Physical Education Center are enthusiastically greeted by “Hey, what’s going on?” from Courtney O’Clair ’04, ’08G, associate director of athletics. The ambiance is welcoming and familiar. There’s a strong alumni connection within athletics, and many former students have returned or stayed for the same reasons.
Director of Athletics Kim Bownes ’07G, who began her career as the head alpine ski coach in 1988, puts it best. “It has always been the people—students and co-workers—who make Plymouth such a special place.”
Assistant Director of Athletics Lauren Lavigne ’94, ’96G came to play basketball and softball in 1990. Her experiences on campus, and specifically with English literature Professor Henry Vittum, made her realize that Plymouth State was where she wanted to be long term.
“Dr. Vittum supported my pursuit of athletics and he would always ask about my games,” says Lavigne. She remembers bumping into him one day on her way to a softball game. She invited him to come, but hardly expected him to be there.
“He didn’t understand sports, but believed in the value of the experience,” says Lavigne.
Jogging off the field between innings she scanned the crowd, and there, on the top bleacher, was Vittum.
“I was so proud, so touched,” says Lavigne.
Lavigne spent two years at Endicott College as head women’s basketball coach, but returned to lead PSU’s program in 1998, a post she held until becoming an administrator in 2012.
“I came back to be a part of the school that made me who I am. I grew up here. PSU has always been my home,” she says.
Craig Russell ’04 has played a significant role in turning the men’s ice hockey team into a regional powerhouse. He came to Plymouth as a mid-season transfer during the 2000–2001 season. When he arrived, he knew just one player on the team.
“I came to the rink, got dressed, and jumped on the ice for my first practice,” says Russell.
As the ‘new guy’ Russell was anxious, but an upperclassman welcomed him early on. “He said, ‘Let me know if you need anything off the ice. I’m happy to help you,’” Russell recalls.
When practice ended a team captain grabbed Russell, making sure the newest Panther had a place to stay and was set for food. From that moment Russell knew Plymouth was where he belonged.
The same sentiment is echoed by more recent graduates. Leah Swanson ’16 decided to play four years of soccer and two years of basketball at Plymouth because of those relationships.
“I loved the connections that I made right from the start,” says Swanson, who now works to maintain the supportive atmosphere for current students.
“The athletics department is one of the best environments I’ve ever been in,” she continues. “Everyone is so welcoming and always there to help me, just as they were when I was an undergrad. I couldn’t imagine starting my career anywhere else.”
Students come to PSU for a host of reasons, and the culture and continuity of the athletics programs makes many of them want to stay.
■ Chris Kilmer ’99
Back Row (L–R): Ryan Joy ’15; Mike Laflamme ’16; Alex Sobolov ’11; Zach Parsons ’11; Lauren Lavigne ’94, ‘96G; Chris Kilmer ’99; Craig Russell ’04; Rob Wright ’08G
Front Row (L–R): Devin Zeman ’05; Courtney O’Clair ’04, ’08G; Kim Bownes ’07G; Dave Gyger ’97
Dan Salzar photo.